RICHMOND, Va. -- The coronavirus variant identified in South Africa, which was first reported in the United States in late January, has been detected in Virginia.
Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement during Friday's news briefing on COVID-19 and the state's vaccination rollout.
Northam said LabCorp detected the first case of the South African variant in a sample from Virginia Thursday. South Carolina and Maryland have also reported cases of the B.1.351 variant.
"The virus, as you have heard is mutating and changing," Northam said.
The governor said the state has also had four cases of the UK variant.
"Scientists tell us these variants of the virus are even more contagious than before," Northam said. "In Israel, for example, the new variants account for more than 80% of the cases in a country that is about the same size of Virginia."
Northam said the variants make it even more crucial to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
"So now is not the time to relax, it's the time to get even more serious about hand washing, mask wearing and physical distancing," Northam said.
Viruses mutate constantly, and many variants of the coronavirus are circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with three that appear to spread more easily.
COVID-19 variant strains that were first linked in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.1) were reported in 33 states in the US as of Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 611 out of the 618 cases are the most contagious variant known as B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the U.K.
According to the CDC, the states with the most cases are Florida (187), California (145), Michigan (29), and New York (42).
One case of P.1, which was first linked in Brazil, was reported in Minnesota, the first state in the U.S. to declare the variant strain.
The CDC said the cases identified do not represent the total number of variant cases circulating in the states and might not match the numbers reported by local and state health departments.
The CDC recommends people wear masks, stay 6 feet apart from others, avoid crowds, ventilate indoor spaces, and wash hands often to prevent the spread of the variants.